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Chris Gorsek advocates for community college funding, statewide police body cameras

PMG FILE PHOTO - Chris GorsekAn Oregon State Representative who is looking to switch offices in the upcoming election has never been afraid to face down his caucus for a cause he believes in.

When Senate Bill 1049, related to redirecting a portion of employee contributions into Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) toward a new account, was making its way through Salem, Rep. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, made a stand against his party.

"That was politically very difficult going against my caucus as most voted in favor of it," said Gorsek, who not only voted against SB 1049 but argued against it. "But I felt so strongly in favor of workers' fairness that I ignored the pressure and irritation from (the other Democrats)."

In the end, SB 1049 passed, with opposition coming from Gorsek, a handful of Democrats, and the majority of Republicans.

"We all have political differences, but when somebody needs assistance I don't care what party they are," Gorsek said. "Whoever needs help I want to help them."

Gorsek is a Troutdale resident, who has called East Multnomah County his home for more than 15 years. He was first elected to House District 49 in 2012, and quickly focused on education and increased transparency in Salem.

As a legislator, he has also advocated for justice reform — drawing on his seven years experience serving as a Portland Police Bureau officer and as a professor teaching geography and criminal justice at Mt. Hood Community College.

And though he recently was elected to his fourth term in the House of Representatives, Gorsek decided to vie for a change. Now he is running as the Democratic nominee for the soon-to-be vacant Senate District 25 seat.

"I have always wanted to be able to move to the Senate because not only do they pass bills, but they also work on appointments made by the governor," Gorsek said.

The seat, which represents Fairview, Gresham, Troutdale and Wood Village, is open after longtime Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson decided not to run for reelection. Gorsek did not want to run against Monnes Anderson, so her departure opened the opportunity. He will face off against Justin Hwang, the Republican nominee. The two previously ran against one another for HD 49.

"I will work very hard for everybody in my district," Gorsek said.

Backing MHCC

As a professor, Gorsek has his finger on the pulse of community colleges and the many issues they face.

One weird issue with funding is a community college must match any money from the state before they can use it, a bizarre requirement made bullet-proof because it is in the Oregon Constitution. That is something Gorsek wants to get changed in the coming years.

He also stressed the importance of securing more funding for Mt. Hood Community College by backing a bond measure.

"The last attempt was not well executed," he said. "Mt. Hood is a great institution, but it has so many infrastructure problems. We need to plan in advance and get local leaders, teachers, everyone on board."

Gorsek sees the things happening in East Multnomah County, in terms of law enforcement, as a roadmap for the rest of the state. He wants to continue promoting dialogues to bring everyone to the table. Recently he joined a criminal justice reform alongside Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese and several community activists.

"Yes there are problems, but we can reduce them through dialogue," he said.

He is working on legislation to bring body cameras to every law enforcement agency across the state.

"The documentation of police activities need to be consistent and available for the public to see," Gorsek said. "It would expose bad policy and good procedures."

An example is a juvenile justice bill that Gorsek got passed, which allowed for the filming of police interviews with juveniles in custody. Before, those were untapped leading to situations where officers could pressure juveniles into giving certain answers.

For homelessness, Gorsek wants to use public-private partnerships to bring more affordable housing to East Multnomah County.

Continuing COVID-19 recovery is also a key to his campaign.

"If you look at other state's COVID rates, many are in much worse positions," he said. "Many of the decisions have been positive in protecting people from a full-blown spread of the disease. But we need to help those balancing home, school, and work."

Some of that includes communicating with businesses, as they understand what they are able to manage in terms of reopening. Gorsek said Salem needs to listen if a business owner said they are able to safely move forward.

For Gorsek, the key in being a good elected official is maintaining a connection to his community. Often, he teaches a course at MHCC in the morning, drives down to Salem later in the day to advocate for bills, and then returns that evening to teach another class.

"It can make for a long day, but we need citizen legislators who are still connected to the people they serve," Gorsek said. "It is my greatest honor to represent East County."

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